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NetGear WAB501 802.11a/b Dual Band PC Card review: NetGear WAB501 802.11a/b Dual Band PC Card

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The Good Combo 802.11a/b support; excellent configuration software; three-year warranty; 24/7 phone support.

The Bad Relatively expensive.

The Bottom Line Want the flexibility of connecting to either 802.11a or 802.11b networks? This well-crafted card is just what you need.

Visit for details.

7.7 Overall
  • Setup 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Support 8

The Netgear WAB501 dual-band wireless adapter is the wireless network card of the future. While the 802.11b standard remains the most popular, it's too slow for high-quality streaming video. For that, you need the newer, faster 802.11a standard. This card contains the silicon for both 802.11a and 802.11b communication, which makes this card more flexible but also (predictably enough) results in a high average selling price of around $130. But if you want the blazing speed of 802.11a at home and the ability to log on to 802.11b hotspots on the road, the dual-band card is a great solution--and less expensive than buying two different cards. Plus, this card is a class act, with great software, extra security, and generous support. When you set up the Netgear WAB501 dual-band wireless adapter, you're instructed to install the configuration software first, before you plug the adapter into the machine and load the card's driver.

The configuration software itself is among the few we've seen that explicitly supports Windows XP instead of simply allowing XP's own networking software to take over the process. In fact, Netgear recommends in the setup guide that you uncheck the box in Windows XP's Wireless Network Connection software that tells Windows XP to manage network settings--and let Netgear's software take over. If you do so, Netgear's icon replaces that of Windows' wireless networking on the taskbar, changing color to indicate a lost (red), weak (yellow), or strong (green) connection. We found Netgear's utility to be slightly easier to use than the native XP utility. In addition to Windows XP, the dual-band card works with Windows 98, Me, and 2000.

Windows XP Wireless Network Connection software.

The hard-copy manual goes the extra mile in explaining how to use Windows' Device Manager to confirm that you've properly installed the driver. The troubleshooting section is too brief, however, and conscientious users who study the section on frequency channel selection will find it unnecessarily technical and confusing.

The Netgear WAB501 dual-band wireless adapter begs an obvious question: How do you choose between 802.11a and 802.11b? You can use the Netgear configuration utility to select one or the other, depending on which type of access point is available. But it's more convenient to leave the card on the autoselect default setting so that a connection is made automatically using whichever of the two bands is present. The only drawback is that there's a delay of several seconds as the card decides which connection to try and establish.

Configuration tab of the Configuration Utility.

The configuration software provided with the dual-band wireless adapter is excellent, offering a sensible aggregation of options, particularly the Configuration section, which pulls together all the mode-switching and power-conservation settings you use most frequently. The configuration software also lets you save multiple network profiles--a handy option if you move among several fixed locations. And for true geeks, the Statistics section gives you all the performance information you could ever want.

Statistics tab of the Configuration Utility.

In addition to 64- and 128-bit WEP, the dual-band wireless adapter provides shared-key, 152-bit WEP encryption. Although 152-bit WEP works only in 802.11a mode, this is the strongest wireless security you can get.

Like most 802.11a cards, the Netgear WAB501 dual-band wireless adapter has a proprietary Turbo mode, which in this case requires two 802.11a Netgear endpoints and claims a top speed of 108Mbps. As usual, the actual throughput was far less in CNET Labs' tests, but 28.8Mbps is still fast. The 17.2Mbps result for the plain 802.11a test was less impressive--but the 802.11b score of 5Mbps is among the fastest we've seen. In informal range tests, the dual-band wireless adapter delivered very good results on its 802.11b interface but failed to nudge past the Orinoco World PC Card (Gold).

Throughput tests
Measured in Mbps (longer bars indicate better performance)
802.11b Turbo   
Netgear WAB501 dual-band wireless adapter
Linksys WPC11 Instant wireless network adapter
Proxim Orinoco World PC Card (Gold)
3Com 11Mbps wireless LAN PC Card with XJACK antenna
Chariot 802.11b response time
Measured in milliseconds (shorter bars indicate better performance)
Netgear WAB501 dual-band wireless adapter
Linksys WPC11 Instant wireless network adapter
Proxim Orinoco World PC Card (Gold)
3Com 11Mbps wireless LAN PC Card with XJACK antenna
Range test
Relative performance in typical office setting
0.0 to 1.0 = Poor   1.1 to 2.0 = Fair   2.1 to 3.0 = Good   3.1 and higher = Excellent
Proxim Orinoco World PC Card (Gold)
Netgear WAB501 dual-band wireless adapter
Linksys WPC11 Instant wireless network adapter
3Com 11Mbps wireless LAN PC Card with XJACK antenna
For practical throughput tests, CNET Labs uses NetIQ's Chariot 4.3 software as its benchmark. For wireless testing, the clients and the routers are set up to transmit at short ranges and at maximum signal strength. CNET Labs' response-time tests are also run with Chariot software using the TCP protocol. Response time measures how long it takes to send a request and receive a response over a network connection. Throughput and response time are probably the two most important indicators of user experience over a network.

With a three-year warranty and 24/7, toll-free phone support, Netgear's commitment to customers is unusually solid. The company's Web-based tech support is mixed, however, with a sensible emphasis on common problems apparently limited to only troubleshooting info on individual products. Unfortunately, few of these items specifically address the dual-band wireless adapter.

Netgear support Web site.

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